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Old 21-05-2018, 01:40   #91
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Originally Posted by daletournier View Post
I'm counting on my epirbs in the worst case scenario. Why not make it as easy as possible. Before each passage I go online and document the where to where and eta, I do this every passage.
I also have a epirb in the life raft, one in the grab bag and my inreach, I also carry a little solar panel battery (in grab bag) that will keep that inreach screaming indefinitely.
I want the odds on my side and using my technology the best I can helps in this area, it certainly can't be harmful having updated contacts and passage info.

You certainly want to make it as easy as possible for SAR services to deal with you in a disaster. Why in the world would you not register your EPIRB? While in many places you might well get a full scale response to an unregistered EPIRB, there are plenty of accounts of EPIRB signals being ignored and people dying as a result. If God forbid I ever have to set off my EPIRB, I want someone on land to be called who will be nervous enough to call around and be sure that something is being done to find me. I will want the SAR services to know who and what they are looking for.

What's going to get the more vigorous response -- "Sailing Vessel X, UK registered, five souls on board, last reported position __N ____W, on passage from A to B"? Or "unknown, unregistered EPIRB activated in the middle of the North Atlantic"? It's just common sense.

For the technical side of it (as opposed to the common sense side of it), read KA4WJA's thorough and excellent discussion in this and other threads.

And as Dale wrote -- one or more alternative means of distress signalling is also a very good idea. I have HF radio and and satellite phone, and multiple PLB's on board.

If the stuff hits the fan and I have to abandon ship, God forbid, I sure as heck want to be found and rescued. I do not want to die because I was unable to signal effectively for help.

"Parce que je suis heureux en mer, et peut-Ítre pour sauver mon ame. . . "
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Old 21-05-2018, 16:29   #92
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Time to renew my 20 year old EPIRB and ACR in concert with our new registry and updated MMSI.
Are their any particular make and models that you would recommend as I will need to buy online.

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Old 21-05-2018, 16:55   #93
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

^^ be aware that not EPIRBs as the same (I guess you already know this ).

However for your port of registry, are you required to have particular features e.g. float free, water activation, auto activation etc. Such detail will determine if some models are suitable or otherwise for you.

Usually PLBs are not regulated in the same manner so I suggest the KTI SA2G PLBs | kti although there are smaller PLB available.
All men dream: but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds wake in the day to find it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangereous men, for they may act their dreams with open eyes, to make it possible. T.E. Lawrence
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Old 02-06-2018, 14:08   #94
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Originally Posted by ka4wja View Post
Hello to all,
I have no interest in getting into long discussions about EPIRB's being useless [sic], but thought some here might actually need/want some facts about EPIRB's, Rescue Assets, etc...

So, instead of getting bogged down in the arguments in another thread, and rather than just posting something here with opinion, etc...thinking that some here would appreciate some actual facts about EPIRB's....I thought I'd take a few minutes and post this..

Please understand that these facts are from COSPAS-SARSAT (the int'l organization that runs the EPIRB system), the USCG, etc. as well as from learned authors and seasoned mariners....these are not my opinions here!!

{One opinion here from me...
If you all can take just one thing from this thread, I hope it would be this:
Whatever distress satellite beacon you decide on, PLEASE understand that unless you're in the Chesapeake, Biscayne Bay, San Fran, etc. this is NOT like calling 911 (or 999) on your cellphone!!!
Response takes time!!
Even finding out who you are, where you are at, and what you need will take time!!!
And then figure in the distances needed to be covered, rescue assets determined and assigned, etc.....this all takes time!!
So, don't expect any beacon to bring you an "instant rescue"!!! }

With more than 1.2 Million distress beacons currently registered, here is one initial fact that some might find interesting, but not surprising...

Two years ago, on the SSCA Discussion Board, I posted significant details about EPIRB's, how they work, what happens when you activate one, how to improve your odds of getting assistance/rescue, etc.....
And, I've referenced that thread many times since....(but just recently checked/updated the links in it, so they DO work!!)

And, I thought that some here might find the information / facts presented there to be VERY helpful...(but, as I found over the years, many will not read much on a link....if you want 'em to read it, ya' better post it here...)

So, with that in is what I posted:

And once registered, please renew (and update) this information every two years, as required!!!
(making sure that all shoreside contact info is up-to-date, AND that they will ALL know approx. where you are sailing...i.e. what ocean you're in, and/or what area you are in...)

And everyone, please read this thread....and follow and READ THE LINKS PROVIDED in it, as the information here (and in those links) may just save your life someday, of the life of someone you love!!!
Now, how's that for an easy way to save your life...just spend a few minutes reading/learning!!!


Fortunately nowadays vessels sailing off and never being heard from again, is a rare most are equipped with Distress signaling devices such as an EPIRB (a 406mhz EPIRB using the Cospas-Sarsat system), especially a GPS-enabled one with a built-in GPS receiver, etc. and many also have MF/HF-DSC signaling (and a few also have INMARSAT-C)....all parts of the well as many modern sailors having access to better weather data/forecasts, than in days of yore.....

But, with some recent occurrences (such as s/v Grain de Soleil, etc.) being debated on-line, I thought maybe someone should post some information on how the Cospas-Sarsat system works, how your EPIRB works (and how-to make it work properly/better), and how to increase/improve your odds of rescue, etc.

So, that is what this posting is intended for....the posting of helpful information about distress signaling and the effectiveness of various approaches...

{Please understand that I'm a self-sufficient sailor/voyager, and I sail by the concept that myself and crew are alone out there and whatever we encounter we should be prepared to handle ourselves....but, part of that is realizing that there may be a rare instance/occurrence that is outside of my control and my ability to solve, and that if all else fails, I still think I'd rather be alive on the deck of a container ship or in a USCG helo, than "going down with my ship", I have elected to equip my boat with distress signaling devices, including an up-to-date registered, and GPS-equipped EPIRB and full VHF and MF/HF-DSC transceivers and antennas (including emerg antennas)....
In my mind/opinion, these are the "last line of defense" against death, and are not designed to be an "easy 911 call" for those sailors that are careless and/or unprepared....
So, this post is not intended to say that "anyone can sail offshore, and when you get in over-your-head, you just need to push a few buttons and you'll be fine"!!! But rather to inform all of you what you can do to improve your rescue odds, should the fhit really hit the san!!! }

1) First off, I will not endeavor to re-write things that have been already well-written and widely published...I will simply post the links to those pages....
But, what I will attempt to do is briefly break things down to some basic concepts and make things understandable to non-tech folks...

2) So, to start off with for details of what the Cospas-Sarsat system is and how it and your EPIRB works, please read over their pages...
International Cospas-Sarsat Programme - International COSPAS-SARSAT

If the above links don't work....please try these!!!

Cospas-Sarsat System - International COSPAS-SARSAT ... escription ... uick-stats

The USCG has a nice powerpoint presentation which explains things easily... ... y_Work.ppt

And, if that link doesn't work, please try this one... ... bs.1,d.eXY

And, for well-written pieces describing things better for the average sailor, please read over Beth Leonard's excellent articles (from Nov 2011 Cruising World)... ... -the-epirb ... r-scenario

And, for a brief glossary of terms and some links to resources... ... esources-0

Onto the nitty-gritty!!!
3) You MUST register your EPIRB!!!
And the registration must be renewed every two years!!!

For clarification, it is a Cospas-Sarsat requirement to register and renew every two years, not my opinion here... }

Although obvious to anyone that understands the system and how it works, many EPIRB owners either forget to do so, or some just ignore this requirement out of ignorance...

Without proper registration, even in the very best circumstances/scenarios, the search and rescue (SAR) operations will be seriously delayed!!! (and in some situations, particularly in 3rd world regions, there may not be any SAR operations at all, until/unless someone can "verify" that this is a "real" distress!!!)
Do you really want to be floating in the icy N. Atlantic for an extra 6 hours??? Or, treading water for days in the middle of some remote part of an ocean??? Just because you couldn't spend < 5 minutes registering your EPIRB!!

Also, unless/until you've established a voice contact with a rescuer, without a proper registration anyone looking for you / trying to assist you in your distress has no idea what type of vessel you're on, nor what color it is, nor its size, nor whether you have liferafts/lifeboats, nor what communications equipment you have, etc... NOT even the name of your boat....
All they know is that a beacon has gone off!!!
Have you ever tried calling a "nameless boat in distress" on the radio, and not even knowing if he has a radio????

EPIRB registration is free, and you can do it on-line, so PLEASE do it!! and keep it up-to-date!!!
And, there is plenty of room on the forms to include many phone numbers of "shore-side emergency contact"....I currently have EIGHT (8) phone numbers and THREE (3) different people listed on my EPIRB registration (not including my own name and numbers), so the RCC should be able to find someone that can confirm where I was sailing!!!

Having just renewed mine a couple weeks ago, I found the name and phone numbers of an old girlfriend of mine still listed there as some of my secondary contact numbers....haven't spoken to her in > 2 years, and I wonder if she's just tell the USCG to "let him drown!!"
Okay, she wouldn't do that, but she's certainly NOT someone that would have any up-to-date information about me / my voyage, so I corrected/updated the names/numbers for my emergency contact, so now all is good!! }

4) Understand that even with a new (or newly serviced and recertified) and properly registered EPIRB, a Search and Rescue (SAR) response to your EPIRB activation is NOT instantaneous!!! (read Beth's article for more details...)
In a nutshell, the RCC (Recue Coordination Center) is first going to be looking for a "confirmation" that this is a real distress....such as an MF/HF-DSC Distress signal, or an INMARSAT-C Distress signal... or in many 1st world ocean regions, secondarily a 'shore-side emergency contact" who can "confirm" approx. where you are at and that you may in fact be in distress....

{Note that even though it IS part of the GMDSS (and is a VERY useful and robust system, which also provides FREE weather info/forecasts worldwide) VERY few small/mid-size private vessels have INMARSAT-C.....and until recently even though it is also part of the GMDSS, few have had MF/HF-DSC signaling capabilities, so unless you have this equipment and it is properly set-up and working well at the time of your distress, your "shore-side emergency contacts" are the only way the RCC can confirm your distress, and they should not only be available / reachable 24/7, but also should have a fairly good idea of WHERE you are sailing at, and as many details about your vessel and current voyage as possible....they should be someone that can be available 24/7 to provide the necessary info, not just "some guy I know" ....}

As an example, in Beth's article the "Best-Case SAR Scenario", a lengthy 3 - 5 hours went by between EPIRB activation and before rescue options were evaluated and AMVER alerts went out, and it was 5+ hours before any SAR assets were directed / deployed....(that means that some ship may have been steaming AWAY from you, or on an unfavorable course from you, for the past 5 hours...making them now as far as 5 hours farther away from you than they were when you activated your EPIRB!!)
And, remember this is a "BEST-CASE" scenario....most will not have such "good luck"...

In addition to providing a distress "confirmation" to an EPIRB activation, which can speed up the process in the best case scenario (and actually start / motivate the process in worse-case scenarios), a MF/HF-DSC Distress signal (and/or an INMARSAT-C Distress signal) also alerts other vessels in your area (directly) that you are in distress, and includes your current GPS position as well as instructions for establishing two-way voice contact (via a specified MF/HF-SSB radio channel).....
This is one reason why there is a second "S" in GMDSS, it stands for "System"....
Using just one part of the system might get you a response, but using two parts (or more) of the system is MUCH more likely to get you a quick and effective response...
Myself, if it came down to needing rescue and I was going to activate my EPIRB I would also send out VHF-DSC and MF/HF-DSC Distress messages in the hope that I'd get a response quickly from a vessel close-by, as well as using both a Cospas-Sarsat EPIRB signal and a MF/HF-DSC signal to confirm each other and enhance the chances of a more rapid SAR response from shore.....

FYI, once you are beyond USCG helo range (typically anything further than 150 - 200 miles off the coast of the US), or beyond the range of coastal UK Coast Guard, or beyond the range of the very few other 1st world nations coastal rescue / coast guards, any assistance / rescue is going to come from other vessels IN YOUR AREA!! These are typically merchant ships, plying the high seas as their business, not the USCG!!!
So, for most ocean crossings and other long passages, getting a Distress message directly to those who can/will render assistance and/or provide rescue as quickly as possible, is always a good idea!!!

5) Now, while many of you may think this is a "belt and suspenders" approach, it is actually how the GMDSS (Global Marine Distress and Safety System) was a "System".....if you use it as a "system" it works very well....

And, some may be wondering: "why can't they just get my position from my "G-PIRB" (GPS-enable EPIRB) and come and get me??"
Well, the answer is multi-fold:
a) It does take a few minutes for your EPIRB (G-PIRB) to attain a GPS-fix and then it takes a minute or two for it to pass on this info to the geo-stationary Cospas-Sarsat satellites (GEOSAR satellites), assuming it can connect to one...

b) The Cospas-Sarsat system uses two types of satellites, and it is only the geo-stationary satellites, GEOSAR satellites (22,300 miles above the equator) that can receive your EPIRB's GPS position, and getting the beacon's registration number and GPS position sent up to these satellites using these small beacons and small antennas is not easy....(PLB's are even worse in this application)
In order for this information/data to get thru, EPIRB's must be in the open, with a clear view / line-of-sight to the geo-stationary satellite (similar to using an INMARSAT ISatPhonePro), and usually floating as well....but they cannot get thru to the GEOSAR satellites from below decks or under a wet liferaft canopy (at best, they are very intermittent under a wet liferaft canopy, and both the EPIRB manufacturers and Cospas-Sarsat strictly recommend leaving your EPIRB floating alongside your liferaft (tied securely to your raft, of course!!), NOT inside the raft!!!
Further the strobes that are on/in the beacons are hard for SAR assets to see, if they're in the raft!!

(This poorly understood part of the system, is also the main reason why PLB's used offshore /in a raft is a less-than-optimal approach.....and unfortunately the smaller and less effective antennas on PLB's vs. EPIRB's means that they must be physically held up fairly well in order for their GPS data to get thru to the GEOSAR sats....)

c) The LEOSAR satellites (Low-Earth-Orbiting Search And Rescue satellites), orbit only a few hundred miles above the earth and receive signals as much as 30db stronger than the GEOSAR satellites receive.....
But, they do NOT receive the GPS-position data from your beacon, they only use the Doppler-effect and signal processing to approximate your position (within a few miles)....
Since these satellites are much closer and are constantly moving, the EPIRB has a MUCH better chance of being received by them....and while it is still not recommended, LEOSAR sats can receive your beacon's signal even with it below decks and/or inside your raft....(BUT, understand that there is NO GPS data from your beacon received by these LEOSAR sats...)

Also, understand that these are polar orbiting satellites and it takes about an hour between satellite passes in mid-latitude areas (less at the poles, and longer at the equator)....and also understand that the initial position fixes from the Doppler-processing of the LEOSAR satellites can be VERY inaccurate....
A quote from Beth's article illustrates that...

d) Further, it is always strictly recommended that an EPIRB be left ON at all times after activation (i.e. do NOT cycle it on/off to save the battery), and as you can see above, there are specific technical reasons for this requirement....
--- It can take quite a while for the data to get thru to the GEOSAR sats if your EPIRB is not out in the clear, and you have NO WAY to know if that GPS data got thru or not....even if it's out in the clear, it's not an absolute that the GPS data will get thru....
--- You have NO WAY to know when a LEOSAR satellite will be within view of your beacon, so turning in on/off you may never get your signal thru to one....

Bottom line:
If you need to activate your EPIRB, get it out in the clear, turn it on, and leave it on!!

6) In addition most EPIRB's also have a very low-power 121.5mhz "homing signal" to allow SAR aircraft and helos, when approaching close (< a mile or so), to home-in on the beacon's position...
I'm not sure how long PLB's (with smaller batteries) will allow this 121.5mhz homing signal to transmit....nor if your PLB will still have any battery power left to run it, if/when a rescue aircraft is out there looking for you.....

7) There has also been some discussion (and some grumbling) about the high cost of EPIRB battery replacement / service / re-certification....
This is required every 5 years, and typically costs about $300...(as I was stuck at the dock, I allowed mine to slide to 6 years, but if I was heading offshore, I would adhere to the 5 year requirement)

Yeah, there are some that will buy the batteries ($50 - $75) and replace 'em themselves...but, I'd rather have a professional actually test my EPIRB after they replaced the batteries, and provide a new certification / test results sheet to me....

I would also want to be sure that whatever batteries I used, were not just the "proper" ones, but also NEW and ready to be sealed up in my EPIRB for the next 5 years, and ready to send out my distress message for at least 48 hours (or more)!!!

Yes, this last part here is mostly opinion / personal recommendation, but I feel secure in that I'm also doing what Cospas-Sarsat recommends, not just following blindly the EPIRB manufactures' recommendations to spend money with them....[/b]

There is more info / details available on the links provided above...
(and I suppose that we could use all of this info to further speculate on those rare occurrences of vessels never heard from again and/or those vessels who have activated their EPIRB, but still have never been located or heard from again..)

Fair winds..


I do hope that these facts will help clarify things for many here...


Great information, thank you for your time and effort.
Frank Aquilina
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Old 29-07-2018, 14:19   #95
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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Although this thread is about EPIRB's....we also discussed radio communications, DSC, etc...

So, I just wanted to give a brief update to all, regarding HF communications in 2018 and over the next 3 to 4 years...

As I have written about over the past year, the fact is that with the down-slide of our sunspot cycle, it is the lower frequency bands that we will be using more and more now, and in the coming 3 to 4 years...but, thought maybe a new video would be of help??

As you can see from this graph, when I recorded most of my other radio videos in Oct 2013 (and again in early 2015), the sunspot cycle wasn't great (avg SSN of 55 to 60), but it was much higher than today, in 2018...

Also, with the generally higher noise levels on these lower bands, it will become important for many to maximize their HF radio system's efficiency and effectiveness for these lower freq bands....

So, when designing your HF system for use now thru 2021 / 2020, it is longer antennas, better antenna/RF ground system, and more attention to reducing on-board receive RFI....these are the things that will matter...

As will educating the radio in that vein, I made another video...

Have a look:

And, I've added it to some Youtube Playlists that some may also find helpful:

HF-DSC Communications

Maritime HF Communications

Offshore Weather

Icom M-802 Instruction Videos

I hope this helps some.

Fair winds.

John, KA4WJA
s/v Annie Laurie, WDB6927
MMSI# 366933110
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Old 30-07-2018, 11:03   #96

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Re: EPIRB's are NOT dead! / EPIRB Activation? What happens/How to improve rescue odds

Noise, signal to noise, sunspots, propagation...

These are all the little things that are part of why "studying to pass the test answers" for ham licenses doesn't really help anyone. And/or why satcoms are, in their way, so much easier to grasp and use for so many folks today. HF has always had some mix of skill, knowledge, and subtle black arts required for semi-random effectiveness. That's just the nature of the beast, isn't it?

Maybe it would be worth adding a video about beacon networks, and how users today have so many more choices, and can use the HF beacon networks to actually see what is working on any particular day, and where they are more likely to get effective comms paths?

To paraphrase a former chairman of the federal reserve, "A decibel here, a decibel there, and sooner or later you're talking real communications!"

Very much the same way that even in a one-design fleet, there are some folks who can trim an extra knot out of their boat, all the time. And others who just never quite can.

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